Is France the most beautiful country in the world ? As a French couple travelling abroad, we often met people praising our home country. Far from home and witnessing so many wonders around the world, it was hard for us to take those praises seriously. Yet, when we get back from overseas and started wandering in France once again, we where mind-blowed by the insane beauty and gorgeous variety of its landscapes. Today, we want to share with you what we consider to be a true French gem : the Pic du Midi d’Ossau. To be honest, this emblematic mountain is probably one of the most beautiful places we’ve ever set eyes upon! We truly hope you might get there one day and see it for yourself…
Pic du Midi d’Ossau
The Pic du Midi d’Ossau sits in the southern mountain range of France called the Pyrénées, in the Béarn region. The people living in the area are very affectionate towards their highest mountain. They always talk about it with warmth as if it was one of their oldest friends, to the point they even gave it a surname : Jean-Pierre ! It’s unmistakable outline has also been chosen to be the sigil of Pau, the main city of Béarn. This is to tell you just how much people there are attached to their beloved mountain! And they’ve got good reasons too… Don’t you reckon?
There are many ways to discover the Pic du Midi d’Ossau as there are many activities available around, like crazy moutainclimbing, birdwatching, cycling…etc, but our favourite of all will always be hiking! The most popular treks include the dizzying climb to the top of the mountain from which you get the most beautiful 360° view of the area (make sure you hire a proper mountain guide to get there as the way up is quite tricky and involve mountain climbing on some parts). Another popular way (and far less perilous ) is to take the two or three days walk around its mighty base to admire it from all sides and sleep in moutain huts. As for us, we decided to…
Hiking the loop of the Lac d’Ayous
It didn’t take us long to agree this walk around the Lac d’Ayous has been designed for us! And here is why: 6 wonderful clearwater mountain lakes are set along the circuit, mirorring the towering figure of Jean-Pierre all the way! See by yourself, here is a preview 😉
This « Tour des lacs d’Ayous » track is a 14 kilometers loop with a light level of difficulty and 800m ascent/descent. It takes around 6h to complete for an average hiker. You need obviously more time if you’re the kind of daydreamer hiker who likes to let every panorama set in. Same for the kind of hiker who is also a photographer dedicated to immortalize every aspects of the everchanging light on rocks. As we are both kind of hikers, you understand we need a LOT MORE than 6 hours to complete the loop. That’s why we agreed to take two full days to achieve the walk, stopping for the night at the Refuge d’Ayous, a mountain hut sitting on the bank of Lake Gentau (alt. 1950 m).
The walk starts at the carpark (you’ve got big signs and maps there, which makes it nice and easy) then passes along large first lake Bious-Artigues before quietly winding its way up through a lighly densed forest. As we are visiting in Fall, we are rewarded by a brightly lit vegetation as well as very few people on the track. If you were to visit during the summer months, we would highly recommend that you’d start as early as possible to avoid the crowd and secure your bed in the mountain hut by booking in advance! The track brings us out of the forest and in a beautiful meadow valley following a pretty stream. From this fresh and relaxing place, we start to get the first views on the famous Jean-Pierre! Up to this part, the walk climbs a bit but is relatively easy and can be done with strollers and electric wheelchairs.
Then it gets more serious! We let the flat concrete path behind and start our way up a properly rocky moutain track! The climb is quite steep as we cross again a beautiful rusty forest. The higher we get the more magnificent the view on the Pic du Midi d’Ossau becomes. Moreover, the weather couldn’t be more perfect. We feel like the happiest persons on earth!
We finally get too high for the trees to grow anymore and the landscape becomes suddenly more arid and wild, exposed to the elements. The second lake we arrive to is called Roumassot and is quite a perfect place for a break. We admire speechlessly its shallow waters sending sparkles of gold on the rocky shore.
Higher up, we find a third lake, which is more like a pretty pond, called lake Miey. This is late afternoon and long blue shadows are casted on the yellow moutain floor. A few more steps and we reach our goal for the day : magnificent lake Gentau. There is not a whiff of the lightest wind, the air is still and warm and the lake is the most perfect silver mirror the sky can reflect onto! This is most certainly one of the most beautiful panorama we’ve seen ever! Everything is perfect and more…
As the sun starts to get low, we climb to the mountain hut Refuge d’Ayous sitting just a little higher, to get its fabulous view over Jean-Pierre and the lake. There we meet two young french hikers who tell us about their most recent challenge : a full crossing of the whole Pyrénées range… twice! Those guys are crazy trekkers and they manage to convince us of the absolute necessity to admire the sunset from the nearest summit. There we should have a wondrous view over the Pic du Midi d’Ossau on one side and Spain on the other! You must admit it sounds quite tempting! Yet we soon realise that this summit is far higher than we thought and as the two young fellows are already running up the ridge, we struggle far behind to keep a good pace in order to arrive before the night! Bordering exhaustion, we finally reach the summit seconds after the sun disappeared behind the horizon of Spain!
Spanish side is simply stunning, heavily coated in a delicious-like honey glaze running golden on the steepy slopes. The sky is on fire tonight and the blond short grass covering the moutains absorbs most of this vibrant light.
As the light fade, we turn to have a look on the other side… only to stare in bewilderment as an astonishing sky feature slowly takes place around the Pic du Midi d’Ossau. A soft pink glow seems to be rising from the ground and surrounds the mighty moutain as the final glow of the sun light paints its tip in red. Any meteorologist would most probably be happy to provide a long and boring explanation on this beautiful phenomenon but let’s rather think this is all magical!
Moments later, a full moon arise over the shoulder of Jean-Pierre, bathing the lake below in a beautiful silver glow and casting the great dark shadow of the mountain on its standstill surface. We hoped we would be able to take pictures of the milky way reflecting on the lake but the moon is far too bright tonight for the stars to shine. Yet we are not disappointed by tonight’s show at all !
A morning in the Lacs d’Ayous…
We sleep quietly at the hut amongst the smells of socks of the fellow hikers that had also stopped for the night. In summer time, the mountain hut is fully open, even offering food services, but on the other months you’ll find most of the hut closed but a small room which offers warmth and some bunk beds to spend the night. We get up at dawn to enjoy a delightful morning hike watching the first lights playing on the Pic du Midi d’Ossau and the surrounding mountains.
After an invigorative walk on the mountain track, we reach the fourth lake called Bersau. It looks a bit like a fortified place, the lake being surrounded by huge rocks and boulders hiding the Pic du Midi d’Ossau from our eyes. We stop there for a while, enjoying a morning snack and finding shapes of imaginary dragons in the shimmering reflections. Can you see them?
We resume our walk along a natural corridor. Jean-Pierre remains hidden for now behind a massive promontory that we are currently circling. Just behind, we arrive along the quiet banks of the sixth and last lake, called Casterau. The track takes us around the lake and finally starts its way down. Just then, we discover an extraordinary panorama over the Pic du Midi d’Ossau and the wonderful valley we left yesterday. We just have to walk our way back to it to finish this wonderful tour of the lacs d’Ayous!
To conclude: We’ve been gone only two days, yet it feels like a lot more. The whole experience was a blast and we really felt like walking in a dream. The Pic du Midi d’Ossau has been the highlight of two months of travels in wonderful South France, between the Tarn and the Pyrénées. As much as we love travelling overseas, we must say that we also do love our home country dearly for a lot of different reasons, and are thoroughly conscious of how lucky we are to have been born in it!
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